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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedEAA Founder reunited with WWII trainer
By Frederick A. Johnsen, EAA AirVenture Today

Photo by Craig Vanderkolk
Paul Poberezny at the PT-23 presentation
in the EAA Warbird area.

A younger Paul Poberezny posing on the wing and with his Army flying buddies.

July 29, 2009 - Oshkosh, WisconsinIt’s not unusual for pilots to imagine what happened to an airplane they once flew.

EAA Founder Paul Poberezny got the answer regarding one of the myriad airframes he’s piloted. On Tuesday at EAA AirVenture he was reunited with a Fairchild PT-23 primary trainer—one of the same PT-23s he used to instruct students at Thompson Robbins Army Airfield in Helena, Arkansas during World War II.

A large crowd of AirVenture visitors lined bleachers to hear Poberezny speak as two large photos on display depicted Paul when he was a flight instructor. “I didn’t realize I looked that young. Just about all of my students were younger than I was,” the 87-year-old Poberezny told the crowd. “I learned from them as well as teaching them.

“I never washed out a student,” he said with obvious satisfaction.

Paul told the crowd some of the instructors preferred teaching students in groups of three instead of the normally assigned five students. So they would find ways to wash out a couple of cadets, while Paul tried instead to nurture all of his fledglings through 65 hours of primary training.

But that nurturing sometimes required a bit of tough love. Paul said he occasionally caught a glimpse in the rearview mirror of a student’s face, staring straight ahead on final approach instead of looking around and judging the landing. At that moment, Poberezny, in the front cockpit, would grab the PT-23’s fire extinguisher and shake it overhead to get the student’s attention.

But lest anyone think flight instructor Poberezny was above any hijinks, he recalled being called on the carpet for “rolling the wheels on the levee of the Mississippi and got caught.” After an admonition, he was back to work.

Poberezny looked at the black rubber hose\gosport speaking tube and mouthpiece with the PT-23 during his presentation. It conveyed the human voice through the airway of the hose instead of via radio. Paul referred to it by a distant colloquialism from an earlier era: “the bitchin’ tool,” because instructors used it to get the attention of wayward students.

The low-wing, open-cockpit PT-23 placed student and instructor under the blazing Arkansas sun. Since instructors flew more than any one of their students, they gained a deeper suntan except where their flying goggles masked their faces, Poberezny recalled. In town, locals could always spot a flight instructor by the pale circles around his eyes. “They called us ‘owl eyes’,” Paul told the crowd. That’s not all they called Paul. In response to a question from the audience, he acknowledged he gained the nickname “Poopdeck” when “people couldn’t say Poberezny,” he explained. “I got that back in grade school. I don’t hear it as much any more because a lot of those people are passing on.”

Two silvered fabric-covered PT-23s formed a rakish echelon backdrop to Poberezny as he spoke. Their stout honey-colored wooden Sensenich propellers were rotated to attention with the two blades pointing to the 10 and 4 clock positions. Cloth flying helmets and rubber gosport speaking tubes draped over the cockpit coaming. It was 1943 again.

The Fairchild PT-23 primary trainer answered a 1942 wartime supply problem by flying behind an available Continental R-670 radial engine when production of similar PT-19s was threatened by a lack of inline Ranger engines. In addition to Fairchild production, PT-23s were built by the Aeronca, Howard, and St. Louis companies in the United States as well as Fleet in Canada.

The uncowled 220-horsepower round engine gives the PT-23A a top speed of 128 mph. At 25 feet, 11 inches in length, the PT-23 is two feet shorter than its narrow-nosed PT-19 siblings. The rest of the airframe is consistent with the PT-19: wingspan is 36 feet, with a wing area of 200 square feet. The beefier radial engine of the PT-23 gives the airplane an empty weight of 2,045 pounds compared with the PT-19’s empty weight of only 1,845 pounds.

Fixed gear, simple construction, and stabilizing wing dihedral made the PT-23 and PT-19 viable as primary trainers for fledgling aviators.

Poberezny’s reunion with his old PT-23 was also the occasion for presentation of a certificate by Tom Thomas honoring Poberezny for his lifelong support of the Reserve and National Guard programs. Called the Seven Seals award, it was conferred by the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) organization.

As the formal program concluded, audience members quietly clustered around Paul Poberezny as he autographed caps and programs.

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